GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Led by prominent factional figures and activists, hundreds of Palestinians swarmed the streets of downtown Ramallah in the West Bank on July 18. Protesters asserted that the stipends paid by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to Palestinian prisoners in Israel are a red line that Israeli authorities should not cross.
This protest is the first of many to be staged across various capitals of the world and in Palestinian governorates in the coming days and weeks. The movement is part of a national campaign launched during a meeting on July 12 in Ramallah by the PA's Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, the PA-funded Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, and several factional bodies and activists. The campaign aims to counter the bill passed by the Israeli Knesset on July 2 freezing part of the PA funds used to pay the monthly stipends to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The new Israeli bill allows Israel to slash part of the Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the PA under previous interim peace accords. This part is equivalent to the monthly stipends paid by the PA to Palestinian prisoners convicted of carrying out attacks against Israeli targets and to the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in confrontations with Israelis. These monthly stipends are equal to $300 million a year.
The fresh bill provides that the deducted amount will be placed in a special fund aimed to compensate the families of Israelis who were killed during military operations with Palestinians.
Qadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, spoke with Al-Monitor during the protest. “This protest aims to denounce Israel’s piracy and theft of the stipends due to Palestinian prisoners and families of martyrs. It falls in the context of a new national strategy to mobilize Palestinian official and popular circles abroad and inside Palestine against the new bill. The PA cannot alone face this bill; this needs a unified Palestinian stance,” Fares said.
Head of the PA's Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, Issa Qaraqaa, told Al-Monitor, “The national campaign has two objectives: The first is exposing Israel's practices against the prisoners in detention, including the policy of torture of detained children and the policy of medical negligence that causes the death of prisoners.”
In a press statement issued on May 20, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club noted that “seven prisoners have died as a result of medical negligence in [Israeli] detention centers during the past five years.” Most recently, Palestinian prisoner Aziz Oweisat, 53, died on May 20 in an Israeli prison hospital days allegedly after suffering a heart attack.
Qaraqaa added, “The second objective of the campaign is putting international pressure on Israel, forcing it to drop the bill on slashing part of the Palestinian tax funds. The campaign seeks to highlight the fact that Israel passed this bill as a political and financial punishment against the PA for refusing any future peace negotiation with Israel after the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, 2017."
He explained that the campaign will organize local and international events and activities. “Local events will be organized by community and factional forces to strengthen the prisoners’ steadfastness against this Israeli bill that seeks to weaken their resolve. Palestinian embassies and expatriates scattered around the world will also be organizing similar protests and sit-ins,” Qaraqaa added.
As part of this campaign, representatives of the Palestinian embassies will meet with government figures from around the world to discuss Israel's violations of Palestinian prisoners and to expose Israel's use of the new bill as a political punishment against the PA.
“The PA has made its decision and will not stop paying the salaries of the prisoners and the families of the martyrs," PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef told Al-Monitor. He added, “The PA, factional bodies and activists decided to launch this campaign to halt the ongoing decline in foreign aid to the PA and to counter this Israeli bill that urges foreign countries to block financial aid to the PA."
Of note, the launch of the campaign comes after Australia announced July 2 — the day the bill was passed — that it would stop its direct financial aid to the PA of $10 million a year for fear of seeing it disbursed to “Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence.” Australian aid goes instead to the United Nations Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian territories that offers health, water, shelter and sanitation services.
“The campaign carries a political dimension that goes beyond the mobilization of international sympathy for the Palestinian prisoners’ issue,” political analyst Talal Okal told Al-Monitor. “The main objective of the campaign is to preserve the remaining international support for the PA."
He added, “The PA fears that international bodies or other countries supporting the Palestinians, such as the European Union, which this year provided the PA with 158 million euros in direct aid, would follow in Australia’s footsteps. This campaign aims to form an international opinion against the Israeli bill on slashing Palestinian tax revenues.”
Okal pointed out that the PA’s efforts to gain international sympathy through this campaign reflect its indignation at the Arab countries' failure to activate the Arab safety net. This net was established during the March 2015 Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and which aims to provide $100 million per month to the PA from Arab donations.
For his part, Ahmed Awad, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, believes the PA is caught between a rock and a hard place. “It could either continue paying the Palestinian prisoners salaries and lose more foreign support, or halt the payment of these salaries and lose more public support.”
He added, “This campaign aims to find a solution to this predicament while sparing the PA any loss of foreign aid or local support. The campaign is intended to assure the local public that the PA will not give up on Palestinian prisoners. It also seeks to create international opposition to the new Israeli bill."
Qaraqaa hopes this campaign will create an international public opinion against the new Israeli bill that pressures Israel to renounce it.
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